Prominent Economist Dies

Published February 1, 1998

The man Wired magazine dubbed “the Doomslayer” died unexpectedly of a heart attack while skipping rope at his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland on February 8. He was 65.

Julian L. Simon–professor of business administration at the University of Maryland and a distinguished senior fellow at the Cato Institute–had the unique distinction of being consistently right about issues pertaining to world resources. He recognized that, of those resources, the human mind is by far the most important.

Simon positively relished hanging charlatans and snake oil salesmen by their own words, contributing mightily to a refreshingly informed discussion of environmental and population issues in the process. Challenging conventional wisdom with conviction and ferocity, Simon wrote or edited 16 books, many of them debunking the gloom-and-doom predictions of environmentalists and population-control theorists.

His most recent book, published just over a year ago, was The Ultimate Resource 2, which updated a work published in 1981. In it, Simon argued that the true ultimate resource is “the human imagination coupled to the human spirit.” It was described in a Washington Post review as “the most powerful challenge to be mounted against the principles of popular environmentalism in 15 years.”

Nobel laureate F. A. Hayek sent Simon a note saying, “I have never written a fan letter to a professional colleague, but to discover that you have . . . provided the empirical evidence for what with me is the result of a lifetime of theoretical speculation, is too exciting an experience not to share it with you.”

In 1980 Simon made a wager with environmentalist Paul Ehrlich, who has made a lucrative career of warning that the world is exhausting its supply of natural resources at a rapid pace. Simon bet Ehrlich that any five raw materials of Ehrlich’s choosing would be less expensive (and thus, by implication, more plentiful) ten years later. In 1990 the prices of all five had dropped, and Ehrlich, chastened, wrote Simon a check for $576.07. Simon won the bet because he recognized that human ingenuity is constantly discovering new sources of raw materials or superior alternatives to them.

In early 1996, Simon produced The State of Humanity, a book of 68 essays providing an encyclopedic examination of mortality, pollution, living standards, and natural resources over thousands of years.